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A World Split Apart by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.

Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.

Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were — State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century’s moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th Century.

— An excerpt from Alexandr Solzhenitsyn: Harvard Commencement Address (A World Split Apart)

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • james wilson October 25, 2018, 11:25 AM

    I remember the speech and the timing. Solzhenitsyn was a legend and Harvard made the mistake of thinking he was their legend. But the great man came from rougher cloth. There was hardly a peep from that assembly of privileged professors and students. The man who against all odds had survived to illuminate the communist tyrants for what they were had now directed his attention to them alone.

  • ghostsniper October 25, 2018, 11:55 AM

    “How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? ”

    Tyranny, resulting in absence of responsibility and rights.
    All along the way the gov’t has claimed it will provide everything for everybody and then, doing none of it. People became reliant on the false gov’t promises and gave up their own responsibility for themselves. Even the necessity of saving one’s own life was surrendered to the lying tyrants, yet nothing could be further from the truth, as evidenced with blatant examples every minute of every day.

    The people surrendered their children to the state for transformation and now generations have been damaged, converted into beasts of burden and display, with no other use possible. Mental eunuchs castrated from the ability to think – that which should differentiate them from the animals. Or perhaps, more like machines, meant to be shut down when no longer capable of doing as directed.

    Downsizing the entire gov’t by 80% would be a start for reclamation but unless the 80% of the incapable/unwilling are erased the change back to what once was will take decades at least.

  • Howard Nelson October 25, 2018, 12:24 PM

    Loss of adequate goal
    Loss of enthusiasm
    Loss of effort
    Why the loss of adequate goal?
    Just look around at all the immediate distractions from most meaningful aspects of life. What are those aspects you ask? That you are asking, not knowing, is the problem and doorway to your solution.
    AS reminds us to remember, reconsider, respond, observe consequences, reconsider, respond, …
    Weave your own OODA loops without strangling yourself or others.

  • Haxo Angmark October 25, 2018, 3:27 PM

    sometime after this vaperous address to the Hahvud glitterati, Solzhenitsyn wrote his last work, TWO HUNDRED YEARS TOGETHER, an objective study of the predominant role of the Jews in destroying Russia and the entirety of White Western Civilization. Needless to say, the book remains unpublished (i.e. blocked by the NY Jews) in the English language, and Solzhenitsyn received no more requests to address the glitterati.

  • Howard Nelson October 25, 2018, 6:19 PM

    A picture immensely different than the one misrepresented by Haxo is found at

    Haxo, gezundheit, especially moral psychological.

  • Howard Nelson October 25, 2018, 7:09 PM

    For AS’ fascinating reflection on repercussions to his Harvard speech,
    We haven’t learned much in the last 40 years.

  • Jaynie October 26, 2018, 5:34 AM

    Startling speech. Eerily foreshadowing the worst of today.
    Fascinating, also, to read that link provided by HN. That piece I downloaded to iPad iBooks so that I can reread it on occasion as a succinct analysis of conservative thinking.

  • Joe October 26, 2018, 5:49 AM

    Haxo Angmark: There has been an unspoken war going on for 6 thousand years. It is about to climax and can you guess who is winning.

  • ghostsniper October 26, 2018, 2:25 PM

    I read that thin at Howard’s first link. As usual these days, it assembles itself up on it’s hind legs and starts squealing about anti-semitism, like a bunch of yappin’ hyena’s. It’s all so tiresome, and childish.

  • Casey Klahn October 26, 2018, 4:23 PM

    A Solz. is one to listen to. I couldn’t agree more that our moral poverty is our lack of God, and isn’t this definitively so? My own view is that, when the Middle Ages ended, we gave up something that was in the air; Spirit with a large “S”.

    But, I’ve never heard anyone say the Medieval Era exhausted itself. Scratches head…will have to get Solzhenitsyn on my reading list.

  • ghostsniper October 27, 2018, 9:39 AM

    “….isn’t this definitively so?”

    Obviously not.
    Isn’t this obviously obvious?

  • Casey Klahn October 27, 2018, 12:04 PM

    Careful, Ghostie. You’re playing word games. The definition of moral poverty is, historically, the lack of respect for God. If one argues this has changed, then maybe so, but the burden of proof for “morality” without God rests on him.

    Moral standards don’t exist. Ask Solzhenitsyn. What are the moral standards in a gulag? How about Murnau?

  • Howard Nelson October 27, 2018, 3:30 PM

    Casey, you may want to grab the 2018 50th anniversary edition of the GA, with preface/intro by Jordan Peterson. For info —

  • Howard Nelson October 27, 2018, 4:07 PM

    Casey, the definition of moral poverty as lack of respect for God, that you present, brought recall of the last words of Sri Ramana Maharshi, who on his deathbed upon hearing the cry of the peacock resident of the ashram, asked “Has anyone fed the peacock yet?” Attitude…Morality…Behavior.
    Ramana, knowing all as God, behaved accordingly, which for him meant sanely, lovingly.

  • ghostsniper October 27, 2018, 6:28 PM

    “….the burden of proof for “morality” without God rests on him…”

    Religion-less people are immoral and believers are automatically moral?

  • Casey Klahn October 27, 2018, 8:57 PM

    Ghostie: none (are) good except God. Seriously. You must wake a little earlier to debate me.

    Howard, I find your last comment delightfully obtuse. Thanks for the ref. on the new edition of the GA. I think I’ll look for a Kindle edition, but not sure it’ll make great airplane reading.

  • ghostsniper October 28, 2018, 6:59 AM

    Now you’re the one being deliberately obtuse Casey.
    Morality can never be based in religion and anyone that claims it is is untrustworthy outright.
    The ability to choose right or wrong is internal.
    You’re right though, debating the circular logic of religion is mostly a waste of time.

  • Anonymous October 28, 2018, 8:03 AM

    We decide when religion gets it right and we abide in its guidance. Yes, we may be wrong in our decision and internalizing that religious discipline, but along with Buddha, Jesus, Moses, Shankaracharya we do the best we can, situation-to-situation, to live and let live.
    We all internalize our beliefs, some using external, objective standards and some believe they do not.

  • William Allen Smith October 28, 2018, 8:09 AM

    The GA exists permanently as a reminder, a strong reminder of where autocracy takes a country and its most valuable citizens – into a deep mora sleep. God has no interest in mankind. Praying for God to bless the USA or Lichtenstein is a waste of time. Pray for God to bless humanity with good sense and morals and to not exploit the downtrodden. Religion is finite, GOD is beyond infinity. Truth is, love is and all else is superfluous. Man is the only half-baked animal that indulges in genocide, the killings of infants, the elderly, of removing the desire to think for oneself, and taking far more than what he deserves. The quest for power is rooted in weakness, not strength. Show me a religion that has produced a Nobel prize winner in Physics, literature, humanity. You will find an empty pew. They contribute nothing but discord.

  • Howard Nelson October 28, 2018, 8:43 AM

    My previous ‘Anonymous’ comment was meant to provoke further discussion of morality and meanings.
    Ramana’s intent in his final words, I think, was to remind us to AT LEAST take care of the helpless neediest.

  • Howard Nelson October 28, 2018, 10:16 AM

    WA Smith, a simple search of Google, Wikipedia, Quora will bring up the list of all Nobel Prize winners by category, country, date, in some cases religion, individuals / organization, reason for Prize.
    Catholic, Protestant, Jewish charities operating world-wide for all needy to prevent disease, starvation, brutalization have done vastly more good for humanity than all of the carping denigrators x 1000.
    Nadia Murad, Yazidi, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner is the most recent.
    Of course, her name and contributions will be trampled in blood-lust dust by her Muslim torturers.
    I hope you will support her in her current world-wide efforts to prevent victimization of men, women, and children. Good man!